“Deceit as a virtue” was a foreign idea until I heard Ravi Zacharias use the phrase in explaining the difference between some religious cultures. Since it happened to be the first month of the year, it coincided with my reading of Genesis again in my One Year Bible. I was seeing the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and was struck again, as I am each time I read the patriarchal narratives, at the duplicity in their lives – passed down from generation to generation. And the phrase came to life — “deceit as a virtue”.
Abraham lied to Abimelech about Sarah being his sister, to save his own skin (Gen. 20). Isaac learns well from his father and lies about his wife Rebekah, and to the same king (Gen 26)! Rebekah, sister of a Syrian named Laban, meanwhile, is not a stranger to deception. She coaches her favorite son, Jacob, on how to deceive Isaac for Esau’s firstborn blessing (Gen 27). Jacob receives the blessing by deception but then has to run for his life from his brother. Where does he run? To his uncle Laban, who gives him a dose of his own medicine. Laban slips Jacob the ugly daughter on his own wedding night (how do you say “too much to drink”?), squeezes 20 years of labor out of him and changes his wages ten times — not 10 raises either (Gen 30-31). Jacob’s twelve sons are acorns that didn’t fall far from the tree. They sell Joseph into slavery and tell papa a wild animal devoured him. Judah, one of the sons, later gets caught in a prostitution sting; the prostitute is his own daughter-in-law, who has been cheated out of another wedding.
The Old Testament is loaded with story after story of deception by “the good guys”. And frankly, it is embarrassing as a Christian to see this strain of warped thinking in our patriarchs. But a few points are becoming clear about God in all this, which can only be touched on here:
1. God is willing to not only accept us as we are, but to speak to us in the language and mindset we can understand. God sends Abraham, the former Molech worshiping Chaldean, up the mountain to offer his own son in the fire. That was the language Abraham understood as a worshiper of Molech. But in the pivotal moment, God reveals Himself as not like the other gods, but as Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who will provide His own sacrifice. A truth encounter.
2. God won’t leave us where we are, but takes us from deception to truth. The angel of the Lord wrestles with Jacob. Another truth encounter. Jacob thinks he has the angel pinned and resorts to his usual manipulative tactics and demands a blessing. The angel brings Jacob to the realization that he has lived his whole life with deceit as virtue by asking him his name – Jacob the deceiver, but then gives him a new name – “Israel, for you have prevailed with God”. But he had not prevailed as some think, by winning a wrestling match, but by seeing God in a new way; not as the god who holds deceit as virtue, but as the God who shines a light on the lies we’ve believed and brings us to the truth. And finally,
3. We now understand that deceit is not a virtue, because we have seen truth in the face of Jesus Christ. Deception wouldn’t bother us had we not seen truth in the life of Jesus. “Let your yes be yes and your no be no”. The beheadings, rapes and torture which are flaunted as virtues and rights by Islamists would not be so grotesque to us had we not seen love in Jesus Christ. No, the Old Testament is never the last word on God and those stories cannot be rightly understood except through the lens of Jesus Christ. God spoke to us in the ways we understood at the time, but in these last days He has spoken through His Son (Heb 1:1-3).
In much of our society, even in government, we see a return to deceit as virtue. Why? Because we refuse the life and revelation of Jesus Christ. But knowing the truth sets people free. Believers in Jesus have been given the Spirit of Truth to shed the notion of deceit as virtue and walk in the power of our true identity. Prevailing with God means seeing God for who He is, thus seeing the prince/princess that we are.
Dr. Kerry Wood | All Rights Reserved 2016 | Picture by Louise Feneley